Image Credit: @yusuwellbeing
The YUSU Community and Wellbeing Officer, Steph Hayle, has drawn criticism after a series of tweets attacking Conservative leadership front-runner, Boris Johnson, and Conservative MP, Mark Field. In a series of tweets, she said she was "ashamed" of anyone who supported either MP, "knowing they assault women". She then went on to brand their supporters as “monsters”, “privileged” and “selfish”. Hayle also stated that those who support either MP are “actively endorsing violence against women” and that supporters “have blood on their hands”.
She later issued a clarification stating that Mark Field did assault women, citing a video of the recent protest incident and that Boris Johnson was ‘accused’ of assault.
It is worth noting that no complaints were made to the police, nor have any allegations of assault been made by the people involved. In both cases, police stated that they did not believe any offences had occurred.
The series of tweets were met with substantial criticism from numerous students. Notably fellow Sabbatical Officer, Finn Judge, who took to Twitter with the following:
Further criticism came from Goodricke Chair, Stephen Stanley: “I just think it's completely inappropriate for a sabb to be expressing these views on their YUSU account. It's not Union policy she's expressing and as she's in a community and wellbeing role, people look up to her as someone they can trust to represent their needs and opinions. Well I can tell you for sure, she's not representing mine, or many of my fellow students”.
Nouse approached Steph Hayle for comment and revived the following statement:
“In my role as Community and Wellbeing officer it is my job to speak out against both the very action of violence and oppression, but also individuals, particularly those in a public sphere, who are known to be perpetrators of violence, hate speech, or other forms of oppression that may impact students at the University of York.
As a representative of the student body, I do not denounce political parties or ideologies, nor do I criticise any student’s political beliefs. However we must understand the importance of speaking out when engaging with perpetrators and changing the culture around domestic violence and micro- aggressions. It is our duty to speak up and help contribute to changing the culture around violence and oppression, which involves denouncing certain individuals and their supporters.
If you elect a person to a position of power you are responsible for giving them the platform through which they can enact this oppression, thus the phrase ‘blood on their hands’. In this case it is a phrase referring to taking responsibility for your voting record and endorsements and how these normalise and endorse a toxic culture that actively supports harmful behaviours. For all intents and purposes, endorsing an individual is endorsing their actions, which in the case referenced on twitter is extremely problematic. It normalises a toxic narrative around these actions which negatively impacts future victims, and leads to cultural problems, which ultimately may drive the number of incidents this is because people feel less able to come forward and report issues, as many feel if powerful people can get away with the crime, what hope do others have of being prosecuted. There are serious societal repercussions for normalising such behaviours, and it is the job I was elected to do, to speak up against these.
To disregard the consequences of voting for such an individual you do express a certain level of privilege, as you are likely not voting against your best interests, thus showing you are likely not going to be effected by the oppression the elected person exercises. It is a selfish position to not consider the impact electing someone who is known to engage with these forms of oppression is likely to have on both your fellow students and citizens of the UK.
The argument I made is a moral issue. The debate is not one of supporting certain political standpoints, any student has a right to support any political party they wish. The point I made is about not supporting individuals (regardless of party) when you are aware of their problematic behaviour.
As students, we have a responsibility to both ourselves and others to create a better future in which no one is victimised by violence, hate speech, or any other forms of aggression or oppression. Thus when we see powerful members of society who are getting away with these acts, we have a duty to call them out and campaign for representatives of our political viewpoints, who don’t have such a damaging and morally conflicting track record.”
Despite the views both Steph Hayle and Finn Judge expressed on Twitter, Union President James Durcan told Nouse: "The viewpoints expressed in these tweets are not representative of the Union's stance. Both Steph and Finn chose to take town the tweets earlier this week after considering the way in which their messages could be interpreted, particularly the potential for misrepresentation about YUSU's position."